Undergraduates cite government as a top career

A new survey of undergraduate students indicates that government and public service careers are a top choice for employment after graduation.

The report, released on Wednesday by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and employment consultant Universum USA, showed that out of 46 career fields, government and public service vocations are the most popular among young people, with 17 percent of U.S. undergraduates selecting the category as "ideal" for their first job after graduation.

"A lot of attention is being paid right now to how President-elect Obama is filling the 4,000 political positions he has to fill," said Max Stier, president of the Partnership, during a presentation of the survey results on Wednesday. "The untold story is how the federal government is going to fill many more positions over the next several years with career civil servants."

The report is based on Universum's 2008 survey of 43,000 undergraduates worldwide to determine the qualities young people seek in employers. The Partnership and Universum narrowed the survey to include only the 32,000 U.S. respondents, since American citizenship typically is required for federal jobs.

The survey said that among U.S. students' top 15 ideal employers, five out of 260 are federal agencies -- the State Department, NASA, Peace Corps, the CIA and the FBI. The government also offers the top qualities that attract undergraduates, the report stated, such as a healthy work-life balance, opportunities to serve the public good and job stability.

Still, despite more interest in working in the public sector, many young job seekers are leery of bureaucracy and red tape in government jobs, according to the survey. Additionally, interest in government service is lower among groups the government needs most, such as technical and science majors, the report said.

Survey participants also have high salary expectations, saying they expect to earn an annual salary of more than $49,000 in their first job after graduation. Federal government salaries for entry-level employees with undergraduate degrees typically range from $30,000 to $38,000, adjusted by locality, the survey said.

To address these challenges and to recruit a large pool of young applicants, the report said, government leaders must understand the preferences and interests of the new generation and be able to sell their department's mission in an engaging and comprehensible way. Agencies also must meet students online and on campus, and provide them with information, meaningful contact and possible internships, the report added.

"With the slumping economy … the conditions are right for federal agencies to bring in top talent," Stier said. "The question is, will they take advantage of this opportunity or let it pass?"

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